After all the drama, controversy, and tabloid headlines, a weird thing happened Wednesday afternoon at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida: Baseball player Alex Rodriguez played in a baseball game. Crazy, right?
With his year-long PED suspension behind him, Rodriguez was back in pinstripes Wednesday for his first game action since September 25, 2013. Serving as the designated hitter and batting second, the 39-year-old went 1-for-2 with a walk in front of a mostly-supportive home crowd. In his first at-bat, Rodriguez swung and missed at the first two pitches from Phillies right-hander Kevin Slowey before lacing a single through the hole into left field. He bounced out to shortstop in his second at-bat before drawing a walk in his final plate appearance of the day.
Rodriguez was both relieved and self-deprecating after the game, telling reporters that he was "a little nervous" about his return and that he was just happy he made contact. He's expected to get the day off Thursday, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi told Erik Boland of Newsday that he will likely DH again on Friday. It's also possible that he'll get his first work in the field.
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It's tough to know what to expect from Rodriguez this season. He's been out of the game for 17 months and will turn 40 in July. Oh, and don't forget that he's playing on two surgically-repaired hips. Getting most of his at-bats out of the DH spot probably gives him his best chance to stay healthy. He'll also call a hitter-friendly ballpark home. Who knows, maybe he has one more year of fantasy relevance left in him. Fortunately, it won't cost much to find out.
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Mike Minor didn't make his season debut until May 2 last year due to a shoulder issue and it appears that he's headed for another late start. The Braves announced Wednesday that Minor will not make his scheduled spring debut against the Astros on Sunday due to tightness in his throwing shoulder. We should know more about his status after he undergoes further evaluation, but it's bad news with the season a month away.
Minor had an up-and-down season in 2014, first dealing with shoulder tendinitis in the spring while trying to work his way back from offseason urethra surgery. The 27-year-old compiled a 3.07 ERA in his first seven starts back from the disabled list, but he was knocked around to the tune of a 6.64 ERA over his next 11 outings before being skipped in the starting rotation. There was even talk of a demotion. While Minor showed better results down the stretch, he left a start in late September due to shoulder discomfort. Tests didn't show any structural damage, but the out-of-contention Braves decided to shut him down for the rest of the year. The hope was that he would be able to rebound in 2015 with a clean bill of health, but that's obviously a tricky proposition now.
The Braves already had the likes of Eric Stults, Mike Foltynewicz, Wandy Rodriguez, and Manny Banuelos competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, so they could now keep two from that group if Minor needs to miss the start of the season again.
Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton suffered a relapse in his battle with substance abuse and there's a difference of opinion on his future. According to Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, a four-person panel -- which consists of two lawyers and two physicians -- is "deadlocked" on whether Hamilton should be entered into a rehabilitation program. As a result, an arbitrator is now expected to join the committee to break the tie.
Hamilton has struggled with addiction for more than a decade and was previously suspended by MLB from 2004 to 2006 before emerging as a five-time All-Star. Due to this history, MLB officials are considering whether to consider him as a fourth-time offender, which could result him in being suspended for as long as one year. New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would ultimately have the final say on the potential suspension length.
As for the financial implications at play, Hamilton is due to make $25 million this season. If he goes into a rehab program, he would be owed his full salary for 30 days, then half his salary for the next 30 days, which is a total of $6.2 million. If he is suspended and not in treatment, he would not be paid at all.
This is a complex and sad situation -- perhaps it would be better for Hamilton to be away from the game and focus on his well-being right now regardless of the length of the suspension levied by MLB -- but this is hardly a place for an outsider to judge. Still, giving a year-long suspension to someone who has an illness feels extreme and the opposite of empathetic.
Youth Must Be Served
Wednesday's exhibition action shined a light on two exciting young players who could soon help your fantasy team.
We'll start with Joc Pederson, who is expected to be the Dodgers' regular center fielder this season. The 22-year-old went 2-for-2 as the designated hitter in his Cactus League debut Wednesday against the White Sox. He singled to right field off veteran right-hander Brad Penny in the third inning before slamming a double off the left-center field wall in the fifth. Andre Ethier, who has made it known that he would prefer to be traded, made the start in center field and finished the day 0-for-2 with two strikeouts.
Pederson didn't do much in a cup of coffee with the Dodgers last season, but he batted .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs and 30 stolen bases over 121 games with Triple-A Albuquerque. Strikeouts are a concern with him, but it's hard to not be excited about his potential.
While Pederson impressed in Arizona on Thursday, Twins prospect outfielder Byron Buxton was doing his part to make up for lost time. Taking on the University of Minnesota, the 21-year-old went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, an RBI, and a run scored. You can watch Buxton in action here.
After entering last season as the consensus No. 1 prospect in the game, Buxton was limited to just 31 games between High-A and Double-A due to a left wrist injury and a concussion. He then suffered a small fracture in his left middle finger while playing in the Arizona Fall League and required surgery. The good news is that he's healthy now. Buxton is a potential five-category stud and could make his way to the majors before the end of the year if all goes well. He'll likely begin 2015 in Double-A.